The event drew a swath of representatives from various NGOs around the world, including non-Catholics, to discuss how Catholic-inspired organizations can help safeguard core Christian values and ensure that a proper integral human development is achieved in the context of a rapidly changing global society.
King was present on behalf of her project “Civil Rights for the Unborn,” which she directs in partnership with Priests for Life. She is also in charge of Priests for Life’s African-American outreach branch, and is involved with various other pro-life entities, including Rachel's Vineyard.
On the last day of the gathering, King had the chance to meet Pope Francis, who often cites her uncle in his speeches.
She told CNA that she was honored to meet the Pope, and when she told him that she was related to Martin Luther King Jr., his face lit up and “he seemed very happy.”
She was also moved by the fact that Pope Francis asked her to pray for him, saying it was “a delightful moment,” and that she was “very blessed to of course do that. I do pray for him and for all who are in authority, that we can live a peaceful life.”
Although King is Protestant, she is a firm believer in working with the Catholic Church, which she sees as a “natural ally.” She said that she is inspired by the Pope’s spontaneous spirit, engagement with everyone he meets, and defense of life at all stages.
Francis, she said, “doesn't take one issue and make that his issue, he seems to be able to connect it and see that it all belongs together...I appreciate his work.”
“The Catholics were very supportive of the civil rights movement (of the) 20th century,” she said, adding that her uncle and father both “worked very closely with the Catholic community.”
When it comes to her own advocacy, life issues have always hit home for King, whose parents in 1950 became pregnant with her before they were married.
At the time, The Negro Project launched by Margaret Sanger in 1939 was continuing to gain steam. Among other things, the project worked to promote contraception and abortion in the black community.
King said her parents had considered getting an abortion until her grandfather, Martin Luther King Sr., “prophetically” intervened. Though they didn't have ultrasound machines at the time, King said her grandfather had strongly rejected the claim that the fetus was “just a lump of flesh.” He said that the baby was a granddaughter whom he had seen in a dream three years prior.
After hearing Martin Luther King Sr. describe how his granddaughter would look, Alveda King’s parents decided against the abortion and she was born in 1951.
(Story continues below)
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Despite hearing this story many times in her youth, King took a different path after her father and uncle died. She had been married, divorced, and no longer had the support system she once did, so when the pro-choice women’s movement began to grow, “I joined it because I'm a freedom fighter.”
However, she said, following the birth of her first child, she was coerced into having two abortions. When she became pregnant again, and was planning to have another abortion, her grandfather gave her the same message he had given her mother: “That's not a lump of flesh, that's my great-grandchild.”
She decided to keep the baby. Seeing her baby's heartbeat on the sonogram confirmed that decision.
“I heard with new ears,” she said, explaining that her uncle's words, “injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere,” began to take on a new meaning in her mind.
“He also said the Negro cannot win if he's willing to sacrifice the future of his children for immediate comfort and safety,” she said, and recounted how, after being “born again” in 1983, she immediately began advocating for life.
In addition to her famous family ties, King had a career in law, was a college professor and served in the Georgia State House of Representatives. In law classes she taught, King said she would bring up the abortion issue and make the argument that “a woman has the right to choose what she does with her body, but the baby's not her body. Where's the lawyer for the baby?”